Step by Halting Step: Leadership in Uncertain Times

In this season of the year, following the crucifixion and resurrection and Jesus’s subsequent forty days among the disciples, Christians celebrate the ascension, the time when Jesus left the disciples and ascended into heaven.

What a roller coaster that month and a half must have been for the disciples.  First, when they expected Jesus to proclaim himself king of Israel and overcome the Roman occupation, they got the crucifixion instead.  In shock and grief, the disciples hid away in fear. And then the resurrection came. Unbelievable. How could this be? Still in shock and grief, the disciples weren’t ready. Even after Jesus appeared to the disciples, they kept hiding in fear.  It took most of the forty days that Jesus lived among them, post-resurrection, for the disciples to begin to trust that he was really back and really himself.

In this past Sunday’s reading from the book of Acts, after Jesus had been with them for forty days, the disciples wondered what would come next.  After forty days with the resurrected Jesus, they had at last recovered from some of the shock and grief and fear.  They began to anticipate the future with Jesus.  “Is this the time that you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” they asked.

But at that very moment, when they had finally regained their footing, Jesus turned everything upside down yet again.  First, instead of answering their question, he spoke what must have seemed like nonsense. And then he disappeared!  They were left open-mouthed, staring up at the skies.

Jesus had spent the past three years developing the disciples as leaders, asking them to join him in inviting people to encounter God more deeply.  And then he vanished, leaving them in charge.  Reeling in confusion, the disciples retreated to pray.

I find myself identifying with the disciples this past month and a half.  Just when I regain my footing, everything changes again in my leadership role at Shalem.  First, the cancellation of two pilgrimages and postponement of a major program, with the resulting loss of 10% of our expected income for the year. Then, our entire staff adjusting to working from home.  Then, all our programs being re-designed to be held online, programs that have cherished the in-person experience of deep connection with one another in beautiful natural settings. Then, a two-week quarantine stretching into six weeks, into three months, into…

Like the disciples, we, as a Shalem staff and board, retreated to pray and discern what is ours to do in these times.  We hear that this is a time for contemplatives, that living in love speaks to a world experiencing loss and grief, that being grounded in God invites people out of fear and panic into trust and hope.  We offer new resources to support people’s deep grounding, to help people live in the love that casts out fear.  We walk one step at a time, the future unclear.

I find that Susan Beaumont’s new book, How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, provides wisdom for these days.  Beaumont talks about leadership in in-between times, when the old way is gone but the new way has not yet emerged.  I believe that we won’t go “back to normal,” but that we are in the midst of a major shift, that we are being invited into a new way of being and doing worldwide.  What this means for Shalem is not yet clear. While we wait for the future to come into focus, we move by the light that we have. We will continue to listen and discern and seek to be faithful, step by halting step.

Like the disciples, our worlds have been turned upside down.  Like the disciples, we need to learn to lead when we don’t know where we’re going.  And like the disciples, we need to continue to pray and listen and be faithful, one step at a time.

 

 

2 Responses to “Step by Halting Step: Leadership in Uncertain Times”


  1. 1 Gerrit Jan Romeijn May 30, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    The recent Covid-19 events have made me more sympathetic towards the disciples. I always thought they were just plain scared for the authorities. Now I start to realize that they could not comprehend what was happening in their lives. Like me: I can’t comprehend how normal the new normal will be, but I am quite curious.
    And: like in many crises: the obvious has become special and the special has become more or less obvious……

    • 2 executivesoulblog May 30, 2020 at 3:10 pm

      I have found the same thing, Gerrit Jan, that I am more sympathetic toward the disciples now. Like them, I can’t comprehend what the future will hold. Thank you for sharing your experience.
      –Margaret


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